Where are the Hummingbirds?
Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter between southern Mexico and northern Panama. The first spring migrants arrive in the United States in the Gulf States. How do they get there? When do the first ruby-throats reach their breeding grounds? What do they need when they arrive?
By Land or By Sea?
Overwintering Ruby-throats begin moving north as early as January, and by the end of February they are at the northern coast of the Yucatan. Some hummers travel by land — skirting around the Gulf of Mexico and following the Texas Coast north. Others migrate over water — 500 miles across the Gulf.
How do hummers fuel up for migration? They gorge on insects and spiders -- almost doubling their weight in about a week. Layers of fat build up on the hummingbird's back, belly, and throat. A licensed bander gently blew on this hummer's feathers to see the white band of fat on its belly.
Imagine the risks a tiny hummer can encounter on its 500 mile trip across the Gulf of Mexico. What if strong headwinds slow it down and make the trip take longer than 18-22 hours? What if its fat reserves are depleted before the bird reaches land?
After doubling its weight, from about 3.25 grams to over 6 grams, a hummer may weigh only 2.5 grams when it reaches land. Finding abundant food and water sources is essential in the coastal habitats along the Gulf. The energy-draining flight burned through the fat reserves and each hummer must replenish immediately in order to survive and continue its journey north.
Hummers reach the coast in late February or early March. Males depart the Yucatan first, followed about 10 days later by the first females. The migration is spread over a three-month period, which prevents a catastrophic weather event from wiping out the population. Are spring habitats ready when the hummers arrive?
When Will Your Hummers Arrive?
Look at wind maps to predict which days hummers will cross the Gulf of Mexico, and then watch the Journey North map to see when and where sightings are reported from the Gulf States. Once in North America, migration proceeds at an average rate of about 20 miles per day, generally following the earliest blooming of flowers hummers prefer. When your hummingbirds arrive they will be eager to eat from your nectar-filled feeders and flowers!